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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

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Germania Solórzano

Hola all,

Merry Christmas everyone!

So Christmas in Nicaragua involves lots of firecrackers. For some reason, Nicaraguans celebrate both Christmas and New Year with fireworks. Dad bought three rolls of firecrackers, like the overgrown kid he is, and gave them to my cousin Paul Elliot and Guillermo Leonel and to my Aunt Marcia's husband Alejandro -- who was quite drunk already when he showed up at our house.

So, at like ten minutes to midnight, just as the festivities were about to get religious (my ma had typed up something from the missalette (spelling?) for the kids to read out loud before she put the baby Jesus into the nativity scene at midnight -- since then he would have been born. She made them practice reading it and they were starting their little production when....) when fireworks -- lots of loud, loud firecrackers were thrown in our direction. Alejandro was out in the street and threw them by the side of the house where everyone was gathered. We had to flee from the fire sparks and flying gunpowder and bits of paper. She was pissed. We moved into the living room where the nativity scene was set up and I think the only ones who listened to the kids were my ma, me, and one of my cousins. Baby Jesus was placed in his manger with a surprising lack of ceremony by my mother. Then all the kiss-kiss of relatives and all the "felicidades" and all the opening of presents.

A Nicaraguan Christmas menu: frijoles con queso de crema (fried beans with a sort of cheese), platanos maduros fritos (fried sweet plantains), vigoron (a cabbage salad with vinegar served on top of a bed of boiled yuca [a root vegetable similar to potato] and chicharron [pork rinds]), relleno (stuffing, but not stuffed into the orifice of any bird in this instance -- made of bread and chicken and pork and raisins -- sweet and yummy despite how it sounds), ham, and for dessert pio quinto (translates to Pious the 5th -- why named after that Pope I don't know -- it is a cake drenched in liquor and topped with a pudding and dusted with cinnamon).

My mom and I were complete wrecks by the end of the evening. It was well into the nineties all night. I wore hoochie-mama shoes that my mother bought me when I got here. (Because here in Nicaragua one is not properly dressed if not in three-inch heels.) After running around for several hours checking on guests, I couldn't stand it any more. I felt like my feet had been Japanese-bound. Off they came and I put on some chanclas to help my ma around. Finally she relented as well and put on some chanclas too. Eveyone left after my Aunt Marcia asked for coffee and my ma told her to help herself as there were two thermos full in the kitchen. No one is used to helping themselves around here and I think she took offence and the place emptied out quick after that. Today, the recovery. The cleaning. The eating of leftovers.

Guillermo told me about a clean little beach just north of San Juan del Sur, which he says doesn't even look like part of Nicaragua, as there are no bums and one can camp there. He is in love with the place. He went once with friends, camped for two dollars only to find out you can stay in an air-conditioned hotel for eight dollars! So we'll see if we can go there.

My cousin Franco (the oldest of the Che-Ches: in Spanish the nickname for Frank is Che, and my aunt named her two sons Franco. One is Francisco Jose and the other is Francisco Javier. We call one Chinito: because he looks slightly Chinesey and the other we call Franco, but as a collective unit they are referred to as Los Che-Ches) is here from Canada. So we talked for a while. He is living in Montreal where he hasn't learned any English, but has learned some French. So I might visit him in Montreal soon. We talked about how the poverty is so startling to see when you've been away. And he grew up in Nicaragua. He's only been away for three years, so it was interesting to hear him say that. He talked about how Canada was very tranquil and secure and how you could go out at night without fear of being jumped by gangs of thieves.

Which I guess is the thing I find so disconcerting here. You are safe as long as you are very careful. My parents live in a gated community with security guards who walk around the area and stay at the entrance where cars come in. In many middle class neighborhoods the neighbors form a collective and pitch in to hire a security company to do just the same. Every store or little mall (yes we have malls in Nicaragua) is guarded by uniformed men with machine guns. Well okay, maybe not machine guns, but with very ominous-looking weaponry. Not shotguns, not pistols. I'll have to ask for the exact name. Banks are guarded with men armed with something almost like a flamethrower.

Aggravation: I have observed that there are two basic body types of Nicaraguan women -- either short, squat little Indian bodies, or lean, lithe and skinny beauties. I am very annoyed that in this tiny country where families intermarry with each other that I got stuck with the short, squat Indian genes.